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02/15/12

Side A
A New Margin
Clean Feed

The prolific multireedist Ken Vandermark leads multiple bands at the same time, yet few of his outings have included a pianist. This is partly what makes his new trio project, Side A, so momentous: The piano adds a dimension to his music that is rarely heard.

Side A features drummer Chad Taylor and Norwegian pianist Havard Wiik. Vandermark sticks to tenor saxophone and clarinet on this recording, but he often plumbs the extremes, burrowing low on the sax, reaching for piercing wails on the clarinet. Together, these three musicians—each of whom supplies some tunes—create high-caliber fire music. Taylor is a fiend behind the kit, but he listens closely to what his cohorts do and responds quickly, occasionally mimicking their sounds on the skins and cymbals. Wiik favors low, rumbling contrapuntal chords and dashing, breakneck right-hand runs, qualities that put him in a league with Matthew Shipp.

“Boxer” opens with unaccompanied drumming; then Wiik picks out low notes, acting almost as a walking bass that keeps Taylor’s spastic drumming in check. Vandermark enters with a quick honk and then a sustained note, then another. Soon he’s squawking and squealing, and we are in familiar Vandermark territory: jazz chops, punk attitude, furious music. Wiik loops a simple phrase to provide the ballast of “Trued Right,” and Vandermark, on clarinet, blows gently at first but by tune’s end he is of course wailing. The piano-and-drums duet that introduces “Fold” sounds like a thunderstorm; it abruptly stops when Vandermark enters, screeching like a nor’easter.

The strangest tune of the program is “The Kreuzberg Variations,” which sounds like a Philip Glass composition superimposed on free-jazz drumming. Stranger still, it sounds perfectly normal. Whether adhering closely to a composition (“Enclitics”) or submitting to the cacophony (“Cometing”), the effect this ensemble incites is the same: The pulse races.

Originally published in January/February 2012
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